The Edwin Morgan Papers: Harry the vanman & the case of the 2 empty envelopes

Continuing our blog posts highlighting gems from the papers of poet Edwin Morgan (1920-2010), we turn our attention to a file of more personal correspondence. Within the Morgan papers there are two large series of correspondence: MS Morgan T, which is miscellaneous correspondence filed chronologically; and MS Morgan D – Correspondence: Named individuals , which is Morgan’s correspondence with or about named individuals.

With MS Morgan D it would appear that specific correspondence would normally get filed into their particular named files over time.  However, there is also some suggestion that a number of these files would be referred to again and again: if, for example, Morgan (EM) was asked to write a reference, or was writing an article or lecture about the individual, or as inspiration for a poem.  That is to say, not only did EM collate this correspondence as a record, it is evident that he also utilised it as source material.

The collection as a whole is a wonderful bundle of contradictions. At first glance you get the impression that EM never threw anything away, but as I started to catalogue the correspondence it became clear that he had undertaken a conscious selection process.  For example, while the vast majority of correspondence from the 1960s–2010 contained both letters sent and letters received, there were a small number of files from this later period that only contained letters sent to EM.  These were all letters that appeared to be part of an ongoing correspondence, and it would seem that EM either never kept, or later removed his own part of the correspondence.

However, the creator’s selection goes beyond deciding to exclude certain parts of his papers and also encompasses the decision of what to include, which brings us to two empty envelopes in the file MS Morgan DR/5: Harry Robertson.

harry-delivery card_01

MS Morgan DR/5

In contrast to those with whom Morgan maintained a professional correspondence: academics, writers, producers, artists and musicians, who are more easily identified and researched, the friends and lovers of EM are not as readily known. Instead we are reliant upon the content of the material within the correspondence and any references that EM might have made to them.  In the case of Harry Robertson we are quite fortunate, in Beyond the Last Dragon: A Life of Edwin Morgan McGonigal notes:

The truck driver… ‘Harry the van man’, [was] described many years later in A Book of Lives (2007:93): ‘Wayward paths can be affectionately led’. His picture was beside John [Scott]’s on EM’s desk in old age, within the same paperweight frame.

In his essay ‘About the House: Whittingehame Court, 4 July 1989’, EM recalled that in his study amongst the photographs was:

Harry Robertson (dedicatee of From Glasgow to Saturn [‘To H.T.R.’]: ‘a lorry driver – of no fixed address – a happy-go-lucky character’)…


MS Morgan DR/5

MS Morgan DR/5 is a very small bundle of papers when compared to many of the other files attributed to named individuals, and the items within cover a relatively short time span, 1969-1972.  The file contains: a hand drawn map, which is annotated with an address, phone number and written directions, while a bus timetable has been copied onto the reverse ; two picture postcards sent by Harry Robertson to EM; one ‘delivery notification card’ with a handwritten note addressed to ‘Eddie’ on the reverse; and two empty envelopes stapled together.  The first of these envelopes is addressed to ‘Mr Harry Robertson’ by EM, with the request ‘please forward’, which has been annotated in red ink ‘Gone Away…’,

harry-envelope 01

MS Morgan DR/5

The second envelope is a formal manila one from the ‘Returned Letter Branch… Glasgow’,  titled ‘Returned Postal Packet’, it is simply addressed to ‘Eddie, writer of a letter addressed to Mr Harry Robertson’.

harry-envelope 02

MS Morgan DR/5

This file is an example of EM’s more personal correspondence, and while minimal it tells us much about his life, and his loves. For example, the inclusion of a bus timetable and map, as EM didn’t drive.  Not only did he keep this small selection, it warranted its own folder, and is not simply in amongst the ‘Miscellaneous correspondence’.  This suggests its significance to EM, perhaps indicating the importance of their relationship, but also possibly because the items were used as source material for his poem ‘Harry’, which was published in A Book of Lives in 2007.

Tell us about Harry. – Harry the vanman? – The very man. Go ahead.
Where shall I begin? He delivered newspapers and the van was red.
That’s not too interesting. – We used to play strip draughts before we went to bed […]

By placing these items, especially the empty envelopes, into their own folder, EM has informed us of their value. His meticulous arrangement throughout the vast majority of his papers suggests that when anomalies do occur it is indicative of carefully considered actions, both with regards to missing items deselected or items deliberately kept.

Please note that an appointment is required to request access to MS Morgan, please contact Special Collections at for further information.

James McGonigal Beyond the Last Dragon: A Life of Edwin Morgan (Sandstone Press Ltd, 2010)

Edwin Morgan, ‘About the House: Whittingehame Court, 4 July 1989’ Nothing Not Giving Messages: reflections on work and life (Edinburgh: 1990) ed. Hamish Whyte

‘Harry’ Edwin Morgan A Book of Lives (Carcanet, 2007) p. 93


Categories: Special Collections

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